Cabbie tells stories of little-known neighborhoods

Social observer, career cabdriver and neighborhood storyteller Thaddeus Logan is offering Baltimoreans another volume of his urban epistles. "Hey Cabbie II!" looks at the Baltimore that passes under the radar of the media and the academics. Logan loves Baltimore unconditionally and airs its embarrassments, guilty pleasures and unauthorized stories.

These compact urban tales speak the truth while describing Baltimore, black and white, rich and poor, from the leafy boulevards of Roland Park to the broken asphalt of Oldtown.

After all, what other form of transportation is used one minute by a business person who will willingly pay $300 to get to Philadelphia because his Acela broke down and the next by an impoverished patient being discharged from a Johns Hopkins psychiatric clinic? While the book carries an apt subtitle, "There's nothing more real than the streets," it could have been called "The Lessons Learned from Good and Bad Tippers."

In 1984, he published his first "Hey Cabbie" book, which went through four printings. The sequel is a little more mellow but still full of his zingers.

I liked the tale of the Fells Point bartender whose car was towed to an impound lot off Lafayette Avenue in a lightly traveled part of West Baltimore. Agitated that he'd have to cough up $280 to get his car back, the bartender started verbally trashing the neighborhood where the car was taken. Logan patiently took the time to show him that only a block away it was really a middle-class enclave of 1920s porch-front homes with well-tended gardens. It was, however, a part of the city largely unknown and untraveled by white residents.

One day this week, Logan and I visited McKean Avenue, between Baker and Presstman. I wanted to see the block where he'd taken a fare, a businessman and real estate investor he'd picked up at Penn Station a while ago. The man, who lived in Seattle, spent his childhood on McKean, just off Fulton Avenue. The Seattle visitor was shocked at what he saw. His old home was gone, the location now a weedy vacant lot. He was also troubled by the lack of locally owned businesses in his old neighborhood.

Logan told me, "Baltimore is a great city, but parts of it are moving into Third World status. I look around and see people who just love Baltimore and take every advantage of it. And the rest of the people are just stuck here."

You might think that Logan would devote chapters to Baltimore's drug culture. He mentions it but leaves that story to others. He is amazed at how Yankees and Red Sox fans flood in here and spend their money and enjoy the city, often more than Baltimoreans. He is also appalled at how poorly taxi transportation is handled at the Preakness, Baltimore's greatest annual sports event.

Logan, 68, has his credentials; he is a native Baltimorean who grew up on Calverton Heights Avenue. Baptized at St. Peter Claver and later a member of St. Edward's, he attended City College and graduated from Frederick Douglass High School. He worked for the Police Department and its vice squad for a while and has been driving a cab since 1980. After living in Northwood, he now lives on Eden Street and was for five years president of the Historic Washington Hill Community Association. He owns his own Checker cab and is a stickler for punctuality.

On our drive, we contrasted West and East Baltimore neighborhoods. He shook his head at the abandoned houses in the neighborhoods off Pennsylvania Avenue near Lafayette Square. In East Baltimore, he grew excited at the early construction of the new Henderson School at Ashland and Patterson Park avenues.

"I look for good things to happen in Baltimore," he said. "I just wish the people who never get out of their neighborhoods would come down and go to an Orioles or Ravens game or to a show at Center Stage. There is a whole lot more to this city than Artscape."

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